2024 Kansas City Mavericks vs Florida Everblades

Kelly Cup Finals Tied At 1; What Have We Learned?

Kelly Cup Finals Tied At 1; What Have We Learned?

It’s not surprising that the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals, between Florida and Kansas City are tied at 1 after the opening weekend of the series.

Jun 3, 2024 by Justin Cohn
Kelly Cup Finals Tied At 1; What Have We Learned?

It’s not surprising that the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals, between the Florida Everblades and Kansas City Mavericks, are tied at 1 after the opening weekend of the series.

The Everblades are the two-time defending champions. The Mavericks are the ECHL’s top seed.

I’d picked the series to go six games, with the Mavericks winning, and nothing really suggested this would be a quick and easy series for either team.

Still, I can’t imagine too many people expected the first two games in Independence, Missouri, to go down quite this way. Florida unleashed an absolute butt kicking in the opener, winning 8-1, and the Mavericks responded the next night with a 5-1 victory.

So much for closely matched, defensive hockey.

Game 3 of the 2-3-2 formatted series will be Wednesday in Estero, Florida.

Let’s review what the series has taught us so far:

The Coaches Are Very Good

It took only three minutes in Game 1 for the Everblades to take the lead, as Bobo Carpenter netted a shot from the right circle. Yes, Kansas City’s Jeremy McKenna answered 3:26 later, but that was followed by an Oliver Chau goal at 15:55, and it was all Florida the rest of the way, as it hit the Mavericks figuratively in the mouth.

The Florida players deserve full marks for playing the way they did, especially since they were in Glens Falls, New York, skating the decisive Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Adirondack Thunder just two days before. 

Florida’s path to the Kelly Cup Finals may not have been as formidable as Kansas City’s, though that point could be debated, but the Everblades certainly played more physical opponents than did the Mavericks.

So far in this series, though, there have been no signs that the Everblades are beleaguered. In fact, Florida has looked to be the more energetic team overall, including a 72-56 shot advantage. In the Game 2 loss, Florida had a 36-21 shot advantage.

Some of this has to be credited to Florida coach Brad Ralph. 

It looked early into Game 1 that the Everblades had made some changes to their systems, apparently trying to throw something at the Mavericks they hadn’t seen on film before. 

The Mavericks have thrived on disrupting opponents as they try to break the puck out of the defensive zone, then turning that into quick scoring chances, but the Everblades made that difficult as they stretched out the Mavericks’ defenders.

Ralph always has been great at adjustments and pushing the right buttons with his own team. 

Over the 2022 and 2023 playoffs, Florida has had home-ice advantage in only one series, which is another way of saying it’s been the underdog in every series but one, yet the Everblades just keep winning and winning. At some point, Ralph is the common denominator.

But Kansas City’s Tad O’Had, who was Ralph’s assistant in Florida from 2016 to 2020, has similar traits when it comes to making adjustments. How else do you explain this: Kansas City hasn’t lost more than two consecutive games this entire season.

It’s no small thing to recover from what happened in Game 1 – a thrashing like that … on home ice … in the finals … to the two-time defending champs – but the Mavericks did so. Seriously, you can’t tell me the Mavericks didn’t go home Friday night wondering if the Everblades were going to do to them what they did to the Idaho Steelheads last year and pull off the sweep of the regular-season champions.

And the Mavericks even trailed 1-0 in Game 2 on a Zach Berzolla goal 1:30 into the first period with, again, McKenna being the one to answer. His goal came on a power play, as did the Max Andreev goal to follow, and the Jacob Hayhurst goal after that. 

Kansas City scored on 3 of 6 power plays in Game 2 and also got empty-net goals from Cole Coskey and Andreev. That’s a good sign for the Mavericks, whose power play is at 18.9% efficiency in the postseason.

Kansas City’s Goaltending Dilemma

I’m pretty superstitious, so I certainly respect O’Had’s decision to stick with Cale Morris as his starter in Game 1, but it wasn’t the right one.

The Mavericks have been alternating starts between Morris and LaFontaine throughout the playoffs, with one exception in the Mountain Division finals against Idaho, but it became clear many days ago that LaFontaine is playing better hockey. 

In the Western Conference finals against the Toledo Walleye’s mighty offense, LaFontaine stopped 97.2% of the shots he faced and was 3-0, while Morris stopped 90.2% and was 1-2.

In Game 1 of this series, Morris stopped 19 of 26 shots before he was pulled during the second intermission. LaFontaine stopped 9 of 10 in the third period and 35 of 36 in Game 2. Certainly, I don’t want to imply Game 1 was all Morris’ fault, because it wasn’t, but there were a couple shots I’m sure he’d like back. And, the Mavericks just play more confidently in front of LaFontaine.

As noted in this article, there’s no recent history of platooning goalies working for a Cup-winning team. Coaches always end up settling on one guy, as I presume O’Had will with LaFontaine’s save percentage being .956 and Morris’ being .899. If he keeps alternating goalies, however, it would make for some interesting theater, so I almost want to see if that happens.

Meanwhile, Florida’s Cam Johnson, the Playoff MVP in 2022 and 2023, now has a .936 SP in these playoffs, stopping 92.6% of the shots he’s faced from the Mavericks. He’s played 20 games – five more than any goalie in these playoffs – and is as sure a thing as you’ll find in these playoffs, assuming he doesn’t collapse from fatigue.

But note this: Johnson hasn’t faced an offense in these playoffs anywhere near as formidable as Kansas City’s, and Game 2 showed the Mavericks’ shooters are just starting to find their footing in this series, especially if you give them power plays to work with.

Don’t Forget The Road Records

It’s easy to sit there and think this series is in the Everblades’ favor going back to Hertz Arena, but I’d caution you of something: The Mavericks, like the Everblades, are very good on the road. 

During the playoffs, the Mavericks are 7-1 on the road, including a 2-1 record at Toledo’s Huntington Center, the most difficult place to play in the ECHL, and the Mavericks broke a home winning streak there that had gone on for months. The Mavericks also were 3-0 at the Steelheads’ Idaho Central Arena, a very difficult place to play, and 2-0 at Tulsa’s BOK Center.

The Everblades are 5-3 at home and 8-4 on the road. Sweeping three straight games from the Mavericks, who haven’t lost back-to-back games all season, seems like an awfully tall order for the Everblades, even if they’re skating in the friendly confines of Hertz Arena.  

Mixed Officiating Results

There referees for Game 1 of this series were Tyler Hascall and Rocco Stachowiak. Kansas City might disagree – Florida got 5 of 7 power plays – but they called a strong game. Particularly noteworthy was a sequence 3:50 into the game, when they spotted a Matthew Wedman slash of a Kansas City stick that led to a goal for a 2-0 lead. Wedman went to the box and it remained 1-0.

There was also a Carpenter goal for a 4-1 lead that happened so quickly, at such a difficult angle, that play went on, and it took one of the longest video reviews I’ve ever seen a few moments later to determine he’d scored. That’s OK, though. The goal is to get calls correct, not to get them done quickly – yes, I used that line when I was reffing amateurs – and they ultimately got it right.

Game 2 was called by Logan Gruhl and Austin O’Rourke, and they almost lost control of the game. There were some big, ugly hits, but the biggest problem was the lack of consistency. We all want to see the physical play, but the teams need to know what the standard is, and everyone seemed a little lost on that Saturday.

Who Needs To Step Up In Game 3?

Josh Ho-Sang’s skating and playmaking abilities are next-level – as you’d hope from a player who was a first-round NHL draft pick – and he’s one of the few Florida skaters who really can outshine the Mavericks when it comes to pure playmaking abilities. But he’s only got one assist so far in this series, despite several breathtaking moments. It feels like just a matter of time until he gets going in this series. He has one goal and 15 points in 19 playoff games overall.

It's so easy to rave about the Mavericks’ many forwards, whether it’s Patrick Curry or Andreev or McKenna, but I’m a Cade Borchardt guy. The best way I can sum it up is I just notice him every time he’s on the ice, and I’m not sure I can say that about all the others, even Curry. Borchardt has only one assist in this series, giving him five goals and 10 points in 15 playoff games, and he could break out soon. 

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Kelly Cup Finals Schedule

Kansas City Mavericks (67-16-6) Vs. Florida Everblades (53-23-9)

Game 1 – Friday, May 31 (Florida 8, Kansas City 1)
Game 2 – Saturday, June 1 (Kansas City 5, Florida 1)
Game 3 – Wednesday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 4 – Friday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 5 – Saturday, June 8 at 7:00 p.m. ET at Florida *
Game 6 – Monday, June 10 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City *
Game 7 – Wednesday, June 12 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City *

* - If Necessary

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